If you meet Donovan Killgallon now, you’d never guess he used to keep his life stories under wraps.
Most of his days are spent walking the halls of Monona Grove High School. Most of his evenings are spent making drinks for customers at Starbucks.
“People would come in and as I'm making their drink, I almost became their therapist,” Killgallon said, “which kind of blew my mind because this is a 30-year-old talking to a 16-year-old, 17-year-old making their drink. But they knew my background. Therefore, they told me theirs.”
Long before his teenage years, Killgallon remembers days at day care that were almost unbearable
“It almost seemed like jumping from prison to prison after that,” Killgallon said.
Killgallon said he has always had issues with weight, his interest in reading over athletics, and most of all, his chin.
“My chin, it's an actual facial deformity. My jaw is kind of smaller,” Killgallon explained.
Killgallon said that jawline came with chronic pain. As he grew up, the source of physical pain brought on another kind of hurt, too.
“Why don't you have a chin? Why don't you have a jaw?” Killgallon repeated.
The worst of the bullying came to a head in the year he arrived at Monona Grove.
“One guy just came up to me and just said, Donovan, why don't you just go kill yourself tonight? It would be better for everybody else,” Killgallon described. “That kind of hit me, yeah, that hit me hard.”
Killgallon realized he couldn’t be the quiet kid in the corner anymore. He turned to music for comfort and a way to express what he was going through.
“It's more of a story to tell than a story to suppress, I guess,” Killgallon realized.
Killgallon heard about a New York-based charity called the Little Baby Face Foundation, which offers plastic surgery to kids being bullied for birth deformities. Killgallon applied to the program and was rejected. However, Killgallon was one of just a handful of people going through the process featured by "Dateline." Suddenly, Killgallon had a national platform for his story.
“Just realizing that they're not alone, and this guy that's from small town Cottage Grove is making a national difference,” Killgallon said.
Killgallon said the response was more positive than he could have ever imagined. Not only was there an outpouring of support once the show was broadcasted, but Killgallon noticed more and more people willing to share their struggles with bullying.
“It feels weird being an advocate for it now, and telling people that they're not alone and they need to stay strong and know hope,” Killgallon said. “It's just, it blows my mind that people are actually doing it.”
Juan Botella had Killgallon in science classes in some of his toughest years. He said he was surprised to hear just how much Killgallon was dealing with, but he also noticed Killgallon was different and perhaps the person who would eventually break the silence on the bullying issue.
“If somebody's going to do it, it's going to be someone like Donovan,” Botella said.
Botella said with classes coming and going, it’s hard to make a message like Killgallon’s last through the years and resonate with new students. He said something has to change about the way adults are dealing with bullying.
“So we need to stop saying, oh they're kids. Of course they're kids,” Botella said. “But we need to say, what do we want our kids to be? We want them to read and we're going to stop bullying, and put the same effort into both of them. That's how I see it.”
Killgallon is preparing to graduate high school.
Until he leaves Monona Grove, he keeps a stash of “Be A Buddy, Not A Bully” bracelets in his locker, ready for anyone else ready to tell their story and hear his message.
“Words do hurt, but they need to, people need to stay strong and know hope. Do what they have to do to push on through,” Killgallon said.